1. Hebrews 8:11 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

What does it mean that “they shall all know me”?

Hebrews 8:11 (ESV)

11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

In short

All shall know God means

  1. in the new covenant God’s covenant people will have internal knowledge of God; or

  2. at the end of time, when Jesus Christ returns, there will be universal knowledge of God.

 The author of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:31–34 to explain that the ministry of Jesus Christ ushers in the new covenant, which God promised through the prophet Jeremiah (Heb. 8:6). The new covenant is better in part because all shall know God (Heb. 8:11).

That all shall know God is a stunning turn of events, considering how God communicated with people in the old covenant. In the old covenant, God used external means including miracles, written laws, and prophets to encourage the people to obey his commands. In order to know God, the people were to teach each other concerning him and the works he had performed for Israel (Deut. 6:4–9). The new covenant is superior because by putting his laws on people’s hearts and minds, all shall know the Lord through internal innate knowledge.

When the audience to the letter to the Hebrews heard that in the new covenant, God would put his laws on people’s hearts and minds so all would know God, this must have reminded them of the instructions from Moses in Deut 6:4–9, which called on the people to teach each other about God. In the new covenant, there is a sense in which this teaching is no longer necessary because all shall know God.

Some authors argue that Hebrews 8:11 must be understood with a view to the end of time because the passage states that all shall know the Lord, and yet, there are people who do not believe in God. They argue that the element of universal knowledge of God is a future covenantal promise. This is possible, except that it overlooks the context, which calls for readers to recognize that the old covenant failed because the people could not follow through on their responsibility to know and obey God. The new covenant is better because the responsibility to know and obey God will come from an internal disposition.

The new covenant is better than the old, not only because Jesus Christ is our advocate at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 1:3), but also because through the power of the Holy Spirit, people have an innate knowledge of God.

Interpretation 1:
In the new covenant God’s people will have internal knowledge of God.


In the old covenant God revealed himself to the Israelites in a variety of manners, including through miracles, the laws given through Moses, and the prophets. In the end, the Israelites were unable to grasp the relationship that God meant to establish through those external means. This meant that they could never remain in the covenant. In the new covenant, God puts his laws on people’s hearts and minds so that people have innate knowledge concerning God and his will for their lives.1

Humans were designed to worship God and enjoy fellowship with him. God gave humans special rational faculties to enable this relationship, but since we are enamoured with ourselves, we get lost in our selfish desires and ignore God. This leads to spiritual death because it is impossible to live without a connection to God. In the new covenant, God puts his law on our hearts and minds so that by the power of his Spirit, we perceive our inadequacy without God and desire to live in a relationship with him.


  • George Guthrie

  • Timothy Johnson

  • Simon Kistemaker

  • William Lane

Minor differences:

There are not many differences between our authors. Guthrie explains that because God will put his laws on the covenant people’s minds and hearts, they will know God.2 And Lane suggests that to know the Lord might refer specifically to knowing Jesus Christ.3 For his part, Kistemaker draws a missional connection, suggesting that because the least to the greatest will know God, even novices of the faith will be able and equipped as witnesses.4


Interpretation 2:
At the end of time, when Jesus Christ returns, there will be universal knowledge of the Lord.


The new covenant has been inaugurated by Christ, but it has eschatological dimensions. This means that some aspects of the new covenant have not yet been initiated, including universal knowledge of the Lord. Once Jesus returns on the clouds in glory, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11).


  • David Allen